The 2021 NFL Draft had eyes on it like very few drafts in recent memory. Indeed, it didn't disappoint; with five QB's going off the board in the top 15 picks, ten Alabama players hearing their name called, and no shortage of surprise trades, it's safe to say the 2021 Draft was an entertaining one.
The New England Patriots certainly had some questions surrounding their draft strategy. The priorities & team needs were aplenty; a team in desperate need of quarterback leadership, skill player depth, and more consistency on defense has a lot of pre-draft question to be answered.
All things considered, Bill Belichick & the Kraft's took care to address each need, and deliver a solid 2021 NFL Draft performance. Let's recap each name that the New England Patriots entered on their tickets this year.
Round 1, Pick 15: Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)
My grade: B+
Many thought the pass-thrower from the 2021 National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide wouldn't be available at this point, as the San Francisco 49ers were rumored to have been interested in bringing in another quarterback after rumors of shopping Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, Kyle Shanahan took a gamble on North Dakota State's Trey Lance, leaving Jones as the logical bet for the Patriots' quarterback of the future.
Photo - Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports
I wrestled with this for quite a bit; my biggest gripe was the defensive talent available at the time. But Kwity Paye's New England homecoming story was too good to be true, and Greg Newsome would've been a reach, so Mac Jones it is. The last time New England had a tall, accurate pocket passer, it worked out quite well (Tom Brady is still playing?!), so I'm on board with it after much deliberation. Jones arguably commands the pocket better than any QB in the draft this year & finds downfield receivers exceptionally well - two things Cam Newton didn't live up to last year (for whatever reason you select). Jones should compete for the QB1 job this year, even though it's Newton's to lose.
Round 2, Pick 38: Christian Barmore (DT, Alabama)
My grade: A+
Photo - David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
What made the Patriots teams of old so good? Sure, Tom Brady was the X-factor, but a mega-defensive line certainly helped...Pats Hall of Famer Richard Seymour, lane-clogger Vince Wilfork, and edge rusher Chandler Jones, to name a few. So, naturally, I think Pats fans should be LOVING this pick. Although they traded up to 38 to get him, Barmore is without question the most talented interior defender in the 2021 draft class - he likely should've been a first-rounder, as most projections had him in Cleveland or Buffalo. Barmore's 90.3 pass-rushing grade last year (PFF) put him in "elite" pass rusher status, despite being a nose tackle. For being #12 on the PFF Big Board, Christian Barmore to the Patriots has potential to be the biggest steal of the draft.
Round 3, Pick 96: Ronnie Perkins (DE, Oklahoma)
My grade: B
I am all in favor of taking a gamble on any edge rusher, as pressuring opposing quarterbacks is what I believe to have been the most inconsistent area of New England's game last year. Naturally, Perkins is some that catches the eye - he racked up a 90.5 PFF grade at Oklahoma last year, but his play was limited (only 262 snaps). It may take him some time to get NFL ready, but the upside with Perkins' game is far greater than the negative. Ronnie Perkins is a low-risk, high-reward selection, and I'm on board.
Round 4, Pick 120: Rhamondre Stevenson (RB, Oklahoma)
My grade: B-
Cue the "Goodbye Sony Michel" tweets! This pretty much seals the deal on the Patriots not picking up Michel's 2022 option, but no worries for New England's deep running back contingent. As Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston mentioned, if there was ever a doubt about what type of team the Patriots are trying to be, bury it; it'll be lots of rush attempts behind massive linemen, and dual tight end threats to counter the impending 6-man or 8-man rush. Rhamondre Stevenson will help in this department; the Oklahoma running back has already received comparisons to LeGarrette Blount with his 5-11, 227-pound frame. Stevenson should get a few reps to start the year, but will need to find his place in a crowded Patriots backfield.
Round 5, Pick 177: Cameron McGrone (LB, Michigan)
My grade: B+
Photo: Mike Mulholland / MLive.com
Cameron McGrone has already garnered praise as one of the "best off-ball linebackers" of the draft, a term that isn't awarded to just anyone. The pride of Michigan, McGrone has speed described as "sideline-to-sideline athleticism." In a defensive system that doesn't rely too-heavily on man-to-man coverage from linebackers, I think McGrone can thrive. It's unclear if McGrone, who is recovering from an injury, will be on-time for camp in 2021; the rumor mill claims to think he may not even be available this year. Only time will tell, but it seems as though Cameron McGrone could be another reliable contributor for New England.
Round 6, Pick 188: Joshuah Bledsoe (S, Missouri)
My grade: B-
Ah, yes, another Bledsoe in New England! The quarterback-turned-safety, Bledsoe has become one of the most versatile secondary players in the SEC; in the 2020 season, he appeared as both a strong & free safety, as well as a slot cornerback. Bledsoe has the athleticism to guard deep threats, while having the physicality to give headaches to smaller tight ends. In a New England secondary that is nothing if not more athletic than its AFC East counterparts, Bledsoe will likely be featured in coverage in nickel or dime defensive sets, but there's still some work to be done. I would've probably given this pick a C+, or even a C, if not for Bledsoe's promise as an immediate special teams contributor, too.
Round 6, Pick 197: William Sherman (OL, Colorado)
My grade: C
Photo: Colorado Athletics Department
New England expects their offensive linemen to be versatile enough to play on both sides of the line, and in both positions (guard and tackle); not usually the case on most NFL front-lines. William Sherman, who flip-flopped between left and right tackle during his time at Colorado, will certainly be no exception, but should have an easier transition period than many others. Sherman will have to compete in a crowded offensive line against Justin Herron, Ted Karras, and Jermaine Eleumunor. It's great to add line depth, and I'm glad Belichick did it, but we'll have to see if Sherman is good enough to stand out in a crowded pool.
Round 7, Pick 242: Tre Nixon (WR, Central Florida)
My grade: B-
Any 7th round pick is going to be a total hit-or-miss; Bo Jackson, Shannon Sharpe, and Marques Colston were all 7th-rounders, but far more had careers that resulted in not a single NFL snap being played. I certainly think Tre Nixon is more poised to be more of an immediate contributor than other 7th rounders selected around him this year. Nixon becomes the fastest receiver on the Patriots roster, clocking a 4.43 40-yard dash at the most recent NFL combine. He's been described as having "serious downfield speed," but his biggest test will be shaking elite cornerbacks that are aplenty against Patriots opponents this year. I like this option for Cam Newton, as he should compete for snaps in the less-frequent wide receiver-heavy sets that Belichick might mix in this year.